Sunday, September 01, 2013


A large can of beans hung by a wire from a tripod made with three sticks over a campfire in the woods. Two men in shabby overcoats sat on cracked white plastic lawn chairs by the fire drinking cans of Old Milwaukee.

“Old Wolf was the best friend I ever had,” said one of the men. He had long tangled gray hair and a beard and was known as Preacher Bob. “We were together five years, me and Old Wolf, and we covered a lot of territory. Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, and all points in between, north, south, east, and west, and right up the backside of Hell …”

He shook his head, chuckling, and stirred the fire with a stick. “Yes sir, me and Old Wolf covered a lot of territory. And had a lot of adventures. Y’know, it was Old Wolf that was with me that time I was arrested for suspicion of murder.”

“Murder!” exclaimed the other man, who was named Tuffy. He also was long-haired and bearded, but his hair was darker. “How did that come about?”

“I never told you that story? Well, it’s quite a story. It happened in Waco, Texas. Me and Old Wolf were walking around one day and ended up behind a shopping center. There was a long line of dumpsters there, and Old Wolf went running straight towards one of them—ignored all the others, went straight up to that particular one and started sniffing it and jumping up and down and going around in circles, acting crazy, and I thought—”

Tuffy laughed. “How come him to act that way?”

“Well, that’s what dogs do.”

“I didn’t know he was a dog. You said he was a friend of yours—”

“Yes, he was my friend AND a dog. That’s why I called him Old Wolf, he was a DOG. What kind of damn name would Old Wolf be for a human being?”

“I thought it was a nickname like Tuffy, or Preacher Bob.”

Preacher Bob sighed and went on with his story. “Anyway, Old Wolf was sniffing at the dumpster and carrying on, so I figured he must’ve smelled something really good in there. Maybe a restaurant had thrown out some food, you never know. So I looked inside, but couldn’t see much at first, just a bunch of trash that didn’t look like it would be of any use. Then I saw a clump of hair. Looked like a wig—a lady’s wig. I figured maybe one of the stores had thrown it out. I didn’t have any need for a wig. My hair is long enough as it is. But you never know what you might be able to sell or barter with. So I grabbed a hold of it and pulled it up, and I swear to God, it was a human head.”


“Yes, it was a decapitated human head. I’d never seen anything like that in my life but I knew right away what it was. It was horrible. I let go of it and ran inside one of the stores—it was a Dollar Tree—ran right through the back door hollering call the police, there’s a head in the dumpster. Which they did, only what I didn’t know was they were calling the police on ME. They thought I was crazy. Well, the police showed up and they thought I was crazy too, but I said no, go look in that dumpster and tell me you don’t see a human head. Well they did, they went and looked in the dumpster, and sure enough they found the head, and next thing I know I’m under arrest. They took me straight to jail.”

“How long were you in?”

“Two days. I thought it was all over for me. They said I could have one phone call which I used to call my brother. He had moved all the way up to New York City. He said, ‘Well, Bob, I’ll try to help you, but I’m living up here now and it won’t be easy trying to raise bail for you or find a lawyer for you down in Texas, and I don’t know how I’d pay for it. But I’ll try.”

“So did he get you out?”

“No, it turned out he didn’t have to, because they found the old boy that did it—the one that cut that head off.”

“And who was that?”

“It was a Fort Hood soldier. Yes, it’s true, an Army soldier cut off his wife’s head and drove all the way to Waco to pitch it in that dumpster. And wouldn’t you know I’d be the lucky son-of-a-bitch to find it. Well, anyway, they let me out of jail. I’d been in two whole days so I figured Old Wolf had probably given up on me and gone on up the trail. But durned if I hadn’t been out an hour when I was walking along the river and here come Old Wolf running out of the bushes straight towards me. Best friend I ever had, and the best dog by a damn sight.”

“Sure sounds like it.”

“But it wasn’t long after that, Old Wolf died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Preacher Bob.”

“Well, that’s an interesting story in itself and here’s how it happened. When I got out of jail I called my brother to tell him not to bother about finding lawyer, I was out, and he said, ‘Bob, you’ve been on the streets too long and you’re not getting any younger. Rooting around in dumpsters is no way to live. One of these days you’re going to get in a mess of trouble you won’t be able to get out of, or you might die. Come on up here to New York City. I can get you a job where I work.’ Well, after two days in jail, that sounded good to me, so me and Old Wolf started—”

Preacher Bob suddenly fell silent. “Someone’s coming,” he said, peering through the woods towards the railroad tracks.

Tuffy turned and saw what Preacher Bob saw: someone walking down the middle of the tracks about a quarter-mile away. There was just enough moonlight to see that it was a man and he was staggering a little.

“It’s not a cop,” said Preacher Bob. “A cop wouldn’t be walking on the tracks like that. Also the way he’s walking looks like he might be drunk. I hope he doesn’t see us and come over here and cause trouble.”

“We don’t have enough beer for him,” said Tuffy, “or beans. I hope he keeps on walking.”

Silently, they watched the man approach. Then, a minute later they heard the blast of a train’s horn farther down the tracks.

Another minute passed. They heard the horn again, closer, and the sound of the engine and cars rumbling on the track. It occurred to Preacher Bob that the man would be stepping off the tracks soon to get out of the way of the train. He hoped the man would step off on the other side, because then the train would be between them and the man, thus he might not see the campfire when he passed. But if he stepped off the tracks on this side he would be closer and more likely to see the fire or smell it.

A minute later, the train’s light appeared behind the man and the horn sounded again. But the man made no move to get off the tracks. He kept staggering along as if there were nothing behind him.

“I hope he has the sense to get off the tracks,” said Preacher Bob.

The horn blasted again, much closer and louder. The man kept walking on the tracks.

Preacher Bob and Tuffy stood up, watching with their mouths wide open.

Tuffy said, “Is he deaf?”

Preacher Bob said, “My God Almighty, that train’s gonna’ run right over him!”

(To be continued)